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Life and Death

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Those Good Old Time Diseases

August 25, 2017

I was a first-grader at Van Nuys Elementary School the first time I came into contact with the medical system. As a healthy child, the only thing that slowed me down was the occasional off-color weenie on “Hot Dog Friday.” None of the hair-netted ladies behind the steam table thought for a minute that I could have something as serious as Ptomaine Poisoning and wouldn’t have been able to recognize it even if I had. Instead, one of them took off her apron and marched me downstairs to the nurse’s office where she laid me down on an old army cot that smelled of other 6-year-old kids.

Nurse Blumenthal looked like every other grammar school nurse – a clinical version of the Pillsbury Doughboy with a red cross centered squarely on the front of her hat. She was probably a cracker-jack clinician at some point in her career. But, you could sense that 30 years of working nights at the V.A. hospital had eroded her diagnostic skills to the point where she was grateful just to have a place to spend the twilight years of her career. read more

All Entries Family Health Home Life Humor Life and Death Medicine

Watching Grandma Circle the Drain

July 26, 2017

There’s only so many ways you can get rid of a dead body. Regardless of how it got that way – stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, run over by a truck, pummeled, poisoned, choked, tossed off a building or just withered from old age – its final demise has to be handled with care.

Up until recently, you only had two choices. You could bury Grandma in a casket or cremate her. Both cost a lot of money and take weeks of planning. Or, if money’s tight, you could always drive into the middle of the desert in the dead of night, dig a hole by the glow of your car’s headlights and toss Grammy in – sort of the Home Depot approach to traditional funeral services. It’s done all the time – at least in gangster movies.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, funerals can cost between $6,500 and $10,000. Cremations can be significantly cheaper, at $800. But then, there’s that nagging question of what to do with those messy ashes. Do I keep them in an urn on top of the mantel or do I put them in a box out in the shed? And, who gets to keep them? What if I lose them? read more

All Entries Health Hygiene Life and Death Medicine

Life on the Body Farm

April 20, 2017

When Mary Scarborough wrote the lyrics to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in 1923, she probably didn’t have a research facility in mind. She wouldn’t find cows, chickens or pigs at “The Body Farm” – just scores of rotting human bodies, covered in maggots.

The Body Farm (officially known as the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility) was the brainchild of Dr. William Bass, a Forensic Anthropologist from Kansas who helps law enforcement agencies estimate how long a person has been dead. Determining the time of death is crucial in confirming alibis and establishing timelines for violent crimes.

After 11 years of watching human decomposition, Bass realized how little was known about what happens to the human body after death. So, he approached the University of Tennessee Medical Center and asked for a small plot of land where he could control what happens to a body, post-mortem.

Bass’s Body Farm drew the attention of readers in 1994 when popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell featured it in her book of the same name. In her book, Cornwell describes a research facility that stages human corpses in various states of decay, in a variety of locations like a wooded area, the trunk of a car, under water or under a pile of leaves – all to determine how human bodies decay under varying circumstances. read more

All Entries Health Home Life Humor Life and Death Medicine

She Can’t Forget You – or Anything Else

April 20, 2017

At one time or another, most have us have forgotten where we left our car keys or paused in the middle of a sentence because we lost our train of thought. Call them lapses in memory or “senior moments.” But, wouldn’t it be nice if you could remember everything you wanted, going back your entire life? Well, for one California woman that capability is both a gift and a curse.

Life on Automatic Rewind

Jill Price can remember every detail of her life from the time that she was 14 years old to the present. Not just familiar memories but every minutia from the date, time and day of the week that Elvis died to when Mount St. Helens erupted or the time of day when the Rodney King beating took place. “My life is like a split-screen,” says Price. “Though I’ll be living in the present, a dozen times or more a day I’ll be pulled back into reliving specific memories of the past.” All it takes is seeing something on TV, a song or a familiar smell to send Price back decades in time. She can tell you what she was doing, what her friends said and even what her mother ordered for lunch at a restaurant. read more

All Entries Health Home Life Humor Life and Death Medicine

You Think You Have it Bad?

April 20, 2017

If you’re one of those people who wake up in the morning complaining about “not feeling yourself” or are constantly hunting down new pimples and fighting back the hair in your ears, you could have bigger problems.

Here are six syndromes and disorders documented in the medical literature of unusual maladies that have made the news but possibly missed your attention. While none of them are considered life-threatening disorders, they do represent some of the nasty tricks the body plays on us.

Who is That in the Mirror?

Take the case of Robert (not his real name) who was recently diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome, a rare psychological disorder that makes the sufferer suspicious of their own reflection in the mirror – or anyone else’s.

Capgras victims have difficulty making physical and emotional connections with the people, places and things that they see, even if they’ve been a part of their lives for years. They’ll see their reflections in a mirror or other shiny surfaces and wonder who the stranger is that’s peering back at them. read more

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